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Vancouver Washington Social Security Disability Law Blog

Define "problem" within context of SSDI

A new audit from the Social Security Administration's inspector general finds that some administrative law judges (ALJ) who approved benefits for the SSDI program failed to provide a well-supported rationale for making their decision.

The IG examined 275 cases from a 7-year period by judges who had statistically higher than average approval rates. It then had the decisions reviewed by the Office of Appellate Operation’s Division of Quality (DQ), and DQ found that 5 would have been reversed, meaning no award of benefits, 7 would have received lower benefits and 108 would have required remand to the ALJ.

A remand would require an ALJ to review the claimant's file and comply with the requirements to provide a well-supported rationale for approving benefits. 

So?

There are some reports that leave one somewhat puzzled as to the purpose. A recent study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is such a report. It found that 59,000 veterans who received military retirement payments also received civilian benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for disability and from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

Perhaps the unstated implication of this is fraud and wrongdoing. There must be something wrong if a veteran can collect military retirement benefits, civilian disability benefits from the VA, and SSDI benefits. But is it? At one time, a veteran's retirement income was offset by any VA disability payment. 

Fixing Social Security really is not that difficult

If one were a Martian, dropped into the U.S. Congress and one listened to some of the discussion of ways to repair the Social Security system, one could be forgiven if one developed a sense that this was a Very Difficult Problem, akin to sending a manned space mission to, say, Mars.

But most of that is misdirection and misinformation, often provided with a political purpose of confusing people and making them believe that it is practically impossible to fix the funding issues with both the retirement program and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

How to avoid becoming one of 990,000

To get some idea of how large the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) apparatus is, one can look to the size of the department that handles appeals of SSDI cases. The SSA employees 1,445 administrative law judges. This is larger than the entire federal judiciary, from the district courts up to the Supreme Court.

These ALJs handle the appeals after the SSDI application has gone through two previous reviews and rejections. These judges currently have a backlog of more than 990,000 cases. They are where you go to have a face-to-face hearing on your SSDI application.

Yes, the SSDI application really is that complex

Life, when you develop a disability, becomes much more difficult. Whether it is a very serious condition that could lead to your death within a short time, like mesothelioma or another type of cancer, or if you have a less grievous condition, like a bad back, that causes chronic pain and simply leaves you unable to work, any type of serious disability makes your life much more complex.

The unpleasant irony is that with any of these conditions, just getting through each day can be difficult. Yet, under these conditions, you have to deal with the sometimes overwhelming complexity of trying to obtain Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The danger of a chained-CPI for the disabled

If you depend on Social Security for retirement income, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, or are on military disability, an important part of your benefit is the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA). If you did not have a COLA on your benefit payment, if you live long enough, you would eventually see a 10 or 20 percent cut in the spending power of your income over time.

Even with a low inflation rate, inflation would chip away at the already minimal benefit payments and cause a severe hardship for retired and disabled individuals. Paul Ryan would like to change how the COLA is calculated, using that "savings" to direct more tax money to the Pentagon.

Is HIV/AIDS listed on SSDI's compassionate allowances?

The quick answer is no. But simply because the condition is not listed on the compassionate allowances does not mean that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are not available for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

However, it does mean your path to obtaining those benefits will be somewhat more complex. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) will need to see detailed medical evidence that proves that you have HIV/AIDS.

Disabled workers need help working

Programs to help the disabled have to negotiate a fine line between providing sufficient support for those who cannot work or earn income because of their disability and providing services that could enable those who may be able to return to some type of work.

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is often criticized by because so few people leave the program after they obtain their SSDI benefits. Those who are familiar with the program understand that there are many factors that influence that fact.

Does the SSA view Fibromyalgia as a basis for SSDI benefits?

Fibromyalgia (FM) can be a terrible disease. It can strip the sufferer of their energy and leave them permanently exhausted, even after a full night's sleep, making them depressed and anxious, with chronic, widespread pain that seems to emanate from everywhere, yet nowhere in particular.

They have difficulty making up a few steps and in this condition, they have to mount a compelling case to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in order to obtain disability benefits. No wonder they are depressed.

SSDI solutions really are not very difficult

What is really remarkable when it comes to all of the fevered discussions over Social Security and what can be done to "save" the program, is how little actually needs to be done. Congress is likely to undergo a prolonged period of wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning how to solve the expected shortfall in the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program when the trust fund that covers part of the cost of SSDI is exhausted in the next few years.

Congress could go in and make real modifications to the funding formula and the tax rates that pay for both the retirement program, technically known as Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and the SSDI program. They both receive their funding from the payroll tax, or FICA tax, that you see deducted on your paycheck.

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